Paul Haggis' The Next Three Days, a thriller about a gentle, Prius-driving professor named John (Russell Crowe) trying to break his wife Lara (Elizabeth Banks) out of prison, is slick, well acted and engaging. It's also morally bankrupt--a film that makes you feel as though you've been taken for a smooth ride by the Hollywood machine and dropped somewhere very nasty.
Writer-director Haggis (Crash) adapted his script from the 2008 French film Pour Elle, but it plays out like the amped-up, macho twin of last month's Conviction. Despite the evidence, John is sure of his wife's innocence, just as Hilary Swank's Conviction character was sure of her brother's. Lara is believed to have killed her boss: her fingerprints are on the murder weapon, the boss's blood is on her coat. Her claim that a young woman brushed up against her as she walked toward the murder scene is taken about as seriously as the old "one-armed man" line in The Fugitive. Her appeals exhausted, the previously lusty, lively Lara grows miserable and attempts suicide. (Banks, a gifted comedian, ably takes on drama here.) Whereas Swank's character put herself through law school to clear her suicidal brother's name, John plots a brazen crime to get his wife back. Crowe is as skillful as ever, but our rooting for the couple's great escape is mostly a Pavlovian response: once the brisk action starts, you can't help getting sucked in.
As John breaks dozens of laws and jeopardizes countless lives, including, most horrifically, his young son Luke's, you marvel at Haggis' temerity: Can we really be expected to get behind a foolish enterprise in which the improbable end justifies all means? Haggis obviously relishes provocation (in Crash, good men also did bad things), but if he really wanted to provoke, he would have made Lara and John something other than lily-white yuppies--and then asked us to cheer on their prison break.
This article originally appeared in the November 29, 2010 issue of TIME.